The Event of Depression: Notes on a Thought That Hides From Itself

Cos I’m a clinically sad person, I’ve been invited to do a sleep study looking at how radical changes in sleep pattern can aid treatment of depression. I’m fascinated & said yes but I’m wondering if this isn’t like jury duty. Only interesting-sounding if you haven’t done it yet. [1]

As mentioned a few times recently — in a recent post and chronicled in the Twitter thread linked above — I’ve been getting ready to take part in a sleep study this weekend.

I’m planning on doing a separate blog which chronicles the whole experience and talks about why I’m seeking experimental treatment, but I also wanted to try and finish a post I’ve had lurking as a draft for almost a year now — something for myself which gives shape to my depression and which might give other people a new way into thinking about their own.

Originally, this thing was a monster. A 10,000-word post that I’d been working on since about April 2018, which I began shortly after posting “Fragment on the Event of ‘Unconditional Acceleration’” when I was really into Deleuze’s Logic of Sense.

Unfortunately — or, perhaps, fortunately — I never finished it. In fact, at some point between then and now, I lost it. I don’t remember deleting it but those 10,000 words are now nowhere to be found.

What I do have are about four or five attempts to restart it. That’s sort of what this post is made up of. But these various false starts seem to capture something else for me which is more truthful than some surgical and in depth analysis. So I thought I’d just post them anyway.

In the original post, I was trying to write about my depression from within the midst of it, trying to make it impersonal (as Mark urged us to do) and take a sort of objective view of my own emotional landscape: recognising a neuro-tic interiority as an outside folded in; attempting to understand how I was feeling in context — from within a structure of feeling — in case that helped me to let go of it; to maybe talk myself out of it.

It didn’t. It only made things worse.

I think I had something of a breakdown last year as a result of this. I didn’t try all that hard to keep it under wraps but I was in such a state of denial that I don’t think I realised how bad things were. I knew things weren’t right, however. Each time I tried to blog about it, it always just ended up triggering the worst panic attacks which would force me into submission and further repression.

Still, I tried persistently to excavate something; to drag it out of hiding. And this became a part of the whole sorry process.

Trying to explore the experience on the blog became a game of chicken played with my mental health. It was bad. I was drinking a lot at the time. Smoking too. I remember the last day I worked on this mammoth post I was in The Fat Walrus in New Cross, making use of their beer garden plug sockets at about 12pm, very soon after they’d opened. I’d had a pint already and I was starting my second, already halfway through a pack of cigarettes — this was the only way I thought I could write at the time — and then, out of nowhere, or somewhere, I wrote a sentence which seemed to clarify the sensation anew and my whole world suddenly started spinning.

It was like chasing my own personal Predator, inferring the blurred outline of its cloaking device in the jungle, or like drawing attention to the Thing in my midst. I already knew it was there, lurking, and I felt powerful and confident as I stood against it. When it revealed itself, however — its true form — the terror was incomprehensible, and it was always too late to retreat.

I ended up on the floor of the pub’s bathroom, overcome by abject panic and nausea, my whole nervous system ablaze. I managed to pull myself together enough to stagger home — fragile, mortified — at 1pm.

That was something of a turning point. I knew then that I needed to get some help.

The post I was working on at the time was centred around guilt, and an acknowledgment of this guilt tended to send it into overdrive. For at least six months of last year I struggled under the weight of it and, at its worst, it made me deeply suicidal. I’d been living in and amongst a load of high rise buildings in south-east London and things became so bad that I couldn’t walk to the shops without having to fight a very real urge to climb onto the roof of one. They leered over every street like a taunt that I found very hard to ignore.

But I never said anything to anyone. Not really. But not out of shame or fear or a lack of desire for help. The only person who knew was my girlfriend, who I’d tell my worries to repeatedly, but every time I let go and cried and ran to her I felt like it just came out as melodrama, like I was over-complaining, afflicted by Man Flu of the brain.

This was also unhelpful because the guilt that was stalking me had, seemingly by proxy, attached itself firmly to her. It became somewhat externalised. It was my parasite but she was hosting it. We have been together for many years and I found myself neurotically fixated on past mistakes — some recent, some ancient — in a way that was utterly compulsive and paranoid, exacerbating the fallout of words regretfully said or things done.

I had legitimate reasons to feel guilty. I have regrets, as we all do. The challenge became separating recently acknowledged mistakes from the intensity of the feeling they provoked. I hadn’t murdered anyone. I hadn’t committed any crime. I hadn’t done anything that untoward. I’d been selfish, maybe. Inconsiderate. A bit of a dick. That was true. But I struggled to convince myself that the consequence of my actions shouldn’t be the death penalty.

Ironically, traumatically, perhaps even understandably, many of these feelings were rooted in the nine months after Mark’s death when I spent 4 days a week drunk and consistently neglected what was then a long-distance relationship. My “Second a Day” video chronicles a lot of the fun had but leaves out the horrors for the most part. When I watch it, however, they are inferred.

Left to my own devices, lonely and depressed, I become an endorphin junkie. Self-centred hedonism as self-medication. A year later, I find I can’t escape the memories of this previous depression and so find myself within a meta-depression, where intrusive thoughts about selfish behaviour whilst depressed became the foundation for a new low.

These thoughts only served to legitimate the delusion. I deserve to feel like this, I’d tell myself, obsessing over a moment from a year ago or three years ago or six years ago — sometimes even longer ago. There came a number of breaking points, where I felt I couldn’t live under anymore guilt unless I went to some sort of confessional, but talking about it didn’t help either. I would release my tensions and worries, having meaningful and constructive pillow talk, talking of love and forgiveness, only to wake up the next day with the beast there again, stalking me, sitting on my chest, like an emotive Groundhog Day where any sense of emotional progress was violently neutered.

Only now, in hindsight, having doubled by dosage of antidepressants and feeling much more serene, can I tell the difference between these irrealities. Nothing about how I have been feeling for most of last year was normal, I can now say to myself with confidence. But guilt remains the most ruthless symptom of my depression. It’s more painful than any numb sadness or self-hatred because, though its source is internal, it manifests externally — or at least, that is part of the illusion. It feels like it can only be remedied by apologies and repentance and self-flagellation; a kind of neurocatholicism wherein friends and family become benevolent gods with the power and right to smite me. I am adrift and at their mercy. There is nothing left for me within — only an impotence through which suicidal ideation is curtailed only by the prospective guilt of what more misery it would bring to those around me. Because then the guilt might be eternal. Salvation, instead, comes from the outside; but, despite following through on my repentance, the outside hides.

There was no amount of philosophy that helped to alleviate these paranoid delusions, but medication has helped a great deal, even if my confidence in treatment is still pretty low. If I forget to take my meds for a day or two, the feelings return. Did they ever go away? Am I just masking them chemically? Realities eat each other, much in the same way my sense of self does. Mental health deteriorates physical health deteriorates mental health. Wellness distrusts illness distrusts wellness.

However, from within this elongated moment of distress, something hit me, both depressing and liberating in equal measure. How could I ever hope to consider my own mental illness impersonally from within the electrified cage of my own inferiority? As I attempted (and often succeeded) to reach the very edges of my sense of self, I was always met with a persistent jolt that knocked me back, violently, making me feel innately claustrophobic and encouraging a desire for complete social isolation. But then it made sense. Thinking from a perspective of relative wellness, Fisher’s call for impersonality no longer felt like a riddle to unlock.

The worst thing I could have done — which I, of course, had repeatedly attempted — was to give an archaeology of my own depression, doing as the “Cognitive Behavioural Therapists” do, generating endless narratives, different versions of each traumatic twist and turn that made it so uniquely and generically mine. At the limit, I find only a hall of mirrors — the last defence against my arrival on the shore of my own outsideness.

An impersonal view of depression is all well and good a goal when you’re not in its jaws. When you are, the challenge of lacerating the ego without the body filling in as a go-between become impossible. How to view depression depressively without letting it win?

I ended up revisiting Nick Land’s essay for the first issue of Parasol: Journal for the Centre for Experimental Ontology, and found “Neurosys” — the essay’s titular concept — resonating profoundly.

I realised, coming to terms with the delusions of the past year, on the side of a relative, if medicated, “wellness”, that this new found clarity did not afford me a privileged position of outsideness, it simply exacerbated the mirrored irreality of wellness itself.

Do you ever get that sensation, within the midst of a really bad cold, where you forget what it’s like not to be full of snot and aching all over? You forget, for a time, how it feels to not be sick? The danger of mental illness is that, in its longevity and subtlety, this sensation can arrive without knocking.

Because the guilt I felt real. It felt deserved. It felt like my truth. Now, I pop a pill every night and my truth has changed. My reality has changed.

Do I side with the new perspective because it hurts less? Do I long for the authenticity of intolerable feeling? Which one is the illusion? Does it matter? The inside becomes a folding of the outside with reality scuttling way into the shadows of its creases. Land writes:

Realism begins as a subtraction of attachment to illusion — as disillusionment. To determine it positively, from the beginning, would be already unrealistic (in exactly the same way that naive realism is unrealistic). Reality hides.

I found this resonating with the half-remembered thought that spawned my lost 10,000 words. It triggered a memory of something sketched out from reading of Logic of Sense in a not-drunk-not-sober mania which, in turn, triggered the melting of reality on the piss-stained floor of a grubby New Cross pub bathroom.

Depression is an event; “a becoming whose characteristic is to elude the present.”

“Come, there’s no use in crying like that!” said Alice to herself, rather sharply; “I advise you to leave off this minute.” She generally gave herself very good advice, (though she seldom followed it), and sometimes she scolded herself so severely as to bring tears into her eyes; and once she remembered trying to box her own ears for having cheated herself at a game of croquet she was playing against herself, for this curious child was very fond of pretending to be two people! “Why, there’s hardly enough of me left to make one respectable person!”

The expression of trying to consciously give shape to a depression from within the midst of it is like the flawed rationalising of Alice in Wonderland. The difficulty of writing about depression is that it is never in time. The vast jumps across time that guilt demonstrates in its ultimate depressive mode only serve to exacerbate this. What hides, in those moments, is a present. When you glimpse it, it terrifies, revealing itself to be a mesh of fragmented flows and rushed stitching which hold together the illusion.

In this way, to talk about a “present” depression feels like an impossibility to me. Time resists it as a measurement. Unable to measure emotion through slithers of time, the self takes slices off itself and throws them on the scales. It feels worthwhile but soon enough there’s nothing left to read the outcome. Again reality hides.

Deleuze writes:

Insofar as it eludes the present, becoming does not tolerate the separation or the distinction of before and after, or of past and present. It pertains to the essence of becoming to move and to pull in both directions at once…

His book, Logic of Sense, has felt like a Bible for understanding depression over the last year but, true to itself, I’m not sure I could ever do its teaching for this depressive mode of being justice. In my reading of the book, “becoming” is interchangeably swapped out for depression in my mind’s eye. The book’s lucid tensions between sense and nonsense start to feel like an exemplary description of this most difficult and unruly of psychological processes, but they are fundamentally philosophical processes also. Attempts to grasp reality as it happens are inevitably always irreal.

This is also one of the implication explored by Land in his Crypto-Current book, carrying forth the shadow of Neurosys:

Glimpsed at its distant pole of unbounded abstraction, the cryptic is the ultimate philosophical enticement. At this point of origination, two-and-a-half millennia behind us, philosophy was nothing other than abstract cryptography. Its concern was hiding.

To see it for what it truly is is not a moment to wish on anyone, least of all yourself. Nevertheless, the hunt goes on.

I don’t know what to do with any of this.

Update: A response from Axxon N. Horror on Twitter which I found very resonant:

Coincidentally I re-read Wolfendale’s ‘Transcendental Blues’ earlier this week and especially its Neuropunk section (with the swathe of links, particularly SSC) was the closest experience of a textual ‘viewing depression impersonally’ I had so far tbf. [1]

An ever-recurring figure there is that of complex vicious loops, cyclical traps, catch-22s, so maybe ‘eluding the present’/reality hiding, as you describe it, is a good demarcation of the transcendental horizon of these loops, how impossible it is to break out of them, egress. [2]

As you’ve often mentioned before, writing itself is in some ways the sought momentary impersonal relief, becoming a stream of consciousness, an other, an automatic practice (also see 4.1 in TB). [3]

It’s always interesting to get back to the question of getting it out there, blogging it to others, producing. It’s different for everyone I’m sure, but in the long run most would probably affirm it’s better than heaping things up inside. [4]


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